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Exploring the two faces of diving

Modified 08 Jan 2015, 20:59 IST
Arjen Robben
Dutchman Arjen Robben reacts after being tackled by Michel Bastos of Brazil

Some of the greatest men of our time have been full of contradictions; just take a look at Batman. It’s part of their charm and it’s an imperfection that enables us to relate to them. Steven Gerrard is one such man who knows only one way to play and that’s with his heart on his sleeve. He’s hard as nails. Gerrard’s only contradiction is that he goes on the record to say he doesn’t mind players play-acting or diving to win penalties or free kicks from referees. He accepts it as part of the game, but at the same time is too much of a man to indulge in such chicanery himself.

Is diving ethically wrong? Yes.

What else is ethically wrong in football?

  • Racism
  • Fouling
  • Abusing officials
  • Excessive appealing
  • Play-acting

There are plenty of initiatives to kick racism out of football and that’s superb. What about the other “wrongs”?

Is anything being done to stop a team from excessively fouling opponents? Roy Keane intended to end Alf-Inge Haland’s career with a rubbish tackle and almost succeeded. What’s to stop a player from attempting that again? Suspensions and fines aren’t serious enough because squads are big and pockets are deep.

Players and managers frequently lash out at referees and we’ve all accepted that as part of the sport. Can you imagine Mahendra Singh Dhoni going up to an umpire and telling him to piss off, regardless of how bad a decision has been given against his team? Alright, Dhoni is generally a calm person, would Virat Kohli do that and get away? I’m sure plenty of people can imagine Virat Kohli doing that at some point, but the question is would he get away with it the way Wayne Rooney does three or four times every match? At this point, it’s important to note that Rooney and Kohli are both “fight fire with fire” kind of sportsmen and don’t mind doing that little bit extra to win.

And for the life of me, I cannot understand the abuse the helpless fourth official is subjected to. He has absolutely no role in the decisions the referee and linesmen take, but the curses flying his way could give Al Pacino’s Character from Scarface a run for his money. And for what? The decision is never going to be overturned. Passion and pride run high, that’s no excuse, it happens in all sports. But the sanctity of the officials has to be respected as it is in other sports.

On the other hand, excessive appealing is common to both sports. Umpires have the power to warn certain players while referees may hand yellow cards to players for excessive appealing. It seems like a decent self-regulatory mechanism. The problem arises when the player’s appeals are taken seriously enough to influence a decision. I firmly believe Franck Ribery, and not the referee sent Rafael off during Bayern Munich’s Champions League tie against Manchester United at Old Trafford in 2010.


One of Ribery’s team-mates and winger on the opposite flank, Arjen Robben, frequently stands accused of play-acting, which presents an extension of the ethical conundrum of blatant diving. Play-acting can be distinguished from diving as exaggerating a foul to get the opponent booked or sent off. In such a situation, a foul has actually occurred, as opposed to a full-blooded dive, where little or no contact is made.

Is it wrong? What distinguishes right from wrong amongst the various forms of gamesmanship is the underlying intent. If the motive to put one’s own team ahead, it falls within the realm of gamesmanship, but if the act is carried out with the sole purpose of intending that the opponent should get booked, it is wrong.

Is winning a penalty for one’s team wrong? Absolutely not.

When a player decides to dive, I believe he actually compares risk and reward and takes a split second decision. The risk is that he will be absolutely torn to shreds by pundits and journalists; he will be booed and abused by opposing fans and get a yellow card in the process. The yellow card is arguably the mildest form of retribution. The reward, on the other hand, is a penalty and an instant chance to put his team ahead in what is more often than not, a tight game with neither team giving the other an inch.


Split-second decisions are the lifeblood of football. When to pass, when to shoot; when to pass short, when to pass long; when to run, when to hold one’s ground – these are the decisions that change the course of a game. Going to the ground or staying on one’s feet; this is one such decision. Any ethical consideration is a distant second to the interest of the team, especially because of the fact that no physical damage is being caused to an opponent.

If a defender deliberately fouls an opponent and knows he could get booked in the process, I believe it is the prerogative of the attacker to take a tumble knowing he could well get booked in the process. There’s absolutely no difference in practice, the difference is only in principle. When a defender does it, it’s called ‘taking one for the team’. When an attacker does it, he invites comparisons with Didier Drogba, for all the wrong reasons.

There’s a time for love and there’s a time for hate in football. These are healthy emotions and it is this emotional involvement that has kept the sport alive through the ages. The time for hate is when an opponent dives to win a penalty. There are no two ways about it. Opposing fans will duly give him hell. But dealing with this “stick”, coping with the renewed resolve and torments of the defenders and still playing one’s natural game is a skill second to none in football.

I do not wish to endorse diving by any stretch of my imagination. I’m merely saying that it is part of the game and we would do well to accept it.

However, for those regulating the game of football, if they ever feel that this issue is so serious that it brings the game into disrepute, then the option of a straight red card for diving could be considered. 

Published 08 Jan 2015, 20:36 IST
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